should employers pay for interview travel expenses?

When you’re interviewing for a job out of state, who should pay your travel expenses, you or the employer?

Before the economy went south, employers would almost always pick up the tab for candidates traveling for job interviews—flights, hotels, and sometimes even meals and entertainment. But in this market, with tight budgets and plenty of local candidates to choose from, employers are increasingly declining to pay for applicants’ travel costs.

If you’re interviewing for an out-of-state job and nothing is mentioned about travel costs, it’s reasonable to ask about being reimbursed. But these days, you need to be prepared to hear that it’s not in the budget. And if that happens, you’ll need to decide whether you’re willing to cover the costs yourself.

Here are six factors to consider when it comes to interview travel expenses:

1. Some candidates are offended or insulted when an employer won’t pay their travel costs. But think of it from the employer’s point of view: When there are plenty of good local candidates, where’s the incentive to pay to bring in candidates from out of town? So if you want to be in the running, paying to get yourself there might be worth it.

2. It’s more common for an employer to pick up the tab if the local candidate pool is more limited, which is often the case with senior positions and specialized positions. In this context, a refusal might indicate a tight hand with resources once you’re on the job too, so that might be worth exploring if you move forward.

3. Before you agree to cover your own travel costs, it’s reasonable to ask how strong your candidacy is. Say something like, “I’m extremely interested in this job and happy to pay my own way out there if you think I’m likely to be a strong match. However, before I do that, could you give me an idea of how strong a candidate you think I am?” Then, pay close attention to the answer. There’s a big difference between “You’re our leading candidate” and “We’re interviewing six people, and you’re all about evenly qualified.”

4. If you haven’t already had a phone interview, ask to have one before you fly out, in order to make sure both parties are still interested after that conversation. You can also ask if the employer would be willing to conduct the first-round interview by Skype or similar technology.

5. Many employers won’t even consider non-local candidates at all, so if you’re specifically trying to relocate to an employer’s area, you might need to factor interview travel costs into the overall costs of your move.

6. Never assume that an employer will or won’t pay travel costs. Rather than making assumptions, wait and see what’s offered, and ask if the topic isn’t raised, because if you offer to cover your own costs before the topic has come up, you might end up preempting an offer from the employer to pay.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 14 comments… read them below }

  1. Joe

    I’ve looked into this issue here and elsewhere on the web. Employers will contact you if they’re interested, so why offer to pay for travel and relocation expenses in your cover letter? Is not mentioning such information a deal breaker? Why drop $600+ of your money on last minute airfare, only for the hiring manager to contact you the day before and ask to reschedule?

  2. Ask a Manager Post author

    Employers will contact you if they’re interested, so why offer to pay for travel and relocation expenses in your cover letter?

    Because many employers won’t consider non-local candidates at all unless they know it will be at no expense to themselves (and sometimes not even then).

  3. Malissa

    While I wouldn’t expect a potential employer to pay for my expenses to travel out of state, the employer should consider a couple of things before asking a candidate before asking them to fly down. One being is it enough notice so the candidate doesn’t have to spend an unreasonable amount of money to get there. The other one being if the employer is located in a popular vacation area, are they asking the candidate to come down at a time, such as spring break, when a open flight is impossible to find.
    On the other hand this is a good way for the candidate to rule out an unreasonable employer.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Reasonable points, but at the same time, remember that an employer may have a short timeline for filling the position. If they have good local candidates and need to conduct interviews in a specific one-week or two-week period, they may be limited in how flexible they can be. (And I think a lot of candidates would still rather have the opportunity extended to them, even if the timing is inconvenient. You can always say no.)

      1. Malissa

        Valid points. In this case I was asked to have a phone interview first before I came down and they said no. I did thank them for the opportunity.
        A week later I got a notice that because I backed out that I couldn’t apply for another position with-in the organization for another year. I think I dodged a bullet on that one.

  4. shawn

    I’ve recruited for tons of positions within HR, and I nearly always give equal to consideration to out of state candidates who:

    1. Show an understanding that they’ve applied to a out of state position
    AND
    2. Give some indication regarding their relocation timeline and availability for an interview

    It’s amazing the amount of applications we receive from candidates who seem completely oblivious to the fact that they’ve applied to a job across the country. It gives the appearance that you aren’t really ready, able, and/or serious about relocating. In my earlier days I still gave some of these candidates consideration and it mostly ended up in wasted time on my end.

    In addition, I’ve only offered to pay for travel expenses a handful of times, for a positions I knew we would have a terrible time filling locally. Otherwise, I’m fine considering non-local candidates, but the costs and headaches associated with doing so are on you.

  5. GeekChic

    I’ve never applied for a local job in my many years of moving around and I’ve never paid to travel for an interview – the employers always offered before I had a chance to ask. Maybe my job is more specialized than I thought…. (I’ve also never had trouble being considered just because I wasn’t local – most of the time I wasn’t even in the same country!)

  6. Anonymous

    Not directly relevant to this issue, but years ago a potential employer flew my wife out to their offices/factory for a long series of interviews for an engineering position. At the end of many meetings, the last interviewer asked my wife for one word to describe herself. My wife, who was new to the U.S. and American culture, and also a bit short and very cute, thought about it for awhile, then said “Cute!” The people burst out laughing.

    She got the job.

  7. Anonymous

    If the 2nd interview requires traveling, and regardless if those expenses covered…should the candidate ask flat out what the position’s salary would be?

    I’m thinking something like, (Candidate asks) “Just so we’re not spinning wheels, can you give me an idea of the compensation before we go further in the process?”

    I realize this goes against convention…!

    1. shawn

      i honestly believe talking about money upfront is beneficial. yes, it would be completely reasonable for a candidate to have an idea of the salary range prior to asking them to trek for an interview. i think a good recruiter/hiring manager would have already brought this up, but if they haven’t you should definitely ask.

      1. Jamie

        This is one of my pet issues. I agree that both parties should know what ballpark the salary is in from the outset.

        You can negotiate within the range, but why some employers prefer to be coy about salary and waste time on both sides I’ll never know.

  8. John

    hi, I just recently was invited out to a panel interview for a small city government that was about 800 miles from where I live. Before I even flew out, they offered to pay for reasonable travel expenses. Also at the end of the interview one of the interviewers made it a point to ask if I had already talked to my HR contact about my travel expenses. This was just yesterday and I am sure that i will not get the check for travel expenses for a while but I would just like to know what that means about the possibility of getting the job offer????? One of the interviewers asked if I owned a home….I assume that had implications on my potential availability???

    1. Anonymous

      Homeowners are often much more expensive to relocate than renters, often by tens of thousands of dollars. First and foremost, they’re just likely to have more stuff – you can fit more into a 4BR house than a 1 BR apartment. Not unrelatedly, homeowners tend to have larger families, which leads to more stuff, and more people to move. Even at the same family size, there’s a tendency to accumulate more when you own, because there’s less contemplation of moving again.

      Even if you have a homeowner with few belongings, companies will often end up paying closing costs or something to assist in the sale of the former home, which can be expensive. And there’s the issue of so many people who own being underwater on their homes. These days, very very few companies feel like paying the difference to the lender, so that the employee can leave the former home behind.

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